'The Exorcist' Movie Franchise

Premise: In this storied franchise, a series of people -- usually priests -- have their faith tested when they encounter someone possessed by a demon named Pazuzu, necessitating an exorcism.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist - based on a true story
© Warner Bros.

In this Oscar-winning classic, 12-year-old Regan McNeil starts playing with a Ouija board and soon thereafter makes an invisible friend named "Captain Howdy." Her mother, actress Chris, notices her acting erratically: cursing, experiencing convulsions, striking out violently, urinating in public -- you know, the usual kid stuff. Medical tests and treatments are of no help. When Chris's friend dies from a suspicious fall while babysitting Regan, police lieutenant William Kinderman investigates and, thinking it could be related to a recent church desecration, seeks input from young priest/psychiatrist Damien Karras, who's studied the psychiatric elements of witchcraft. Chris asks Karras to perform an exorcism, and he agrees, despite his faltering faith in the wake of his mother's death. Karras' superiors suggest he receive assistance from an experienced exorcist, Father Lankester Merrin, and the two begin exorcising the demon Pazuzu from Regan's body. In the process, the demon kills Merrin, and Karras dares it to take possession of his body instead of the girl. When it does, he leaps through the window to his death.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Exorcist 2: The Heretic
© Warner Bros.

This notorious sequel takes place four years after the events in the first film, with 16-year-old Regan living in New York City with Chris' assistant Sharon while Chris is filming on location. Although she undergoes regular therapy with psychiatrist Dr. Tuskin, she doesn't remember what happened during her possession. Meanwhile, Father Philip Lamont, a priest experiencing a lapse in faith following a failed exorcism, is assigned to investigate the death of Father Merrin, whose teachings about the existence of Satan are in danger of being declared heresy. He visits Regan and uses a machine that allows him to synch up brainwaves with Regan to access her repressed memories -- and those of Pazuzu, who's apparently still hanging around Regan. Lamont delves into Merrin's past, his first encounter with Pazuzu in Ethiopia, where it possessed a boy named Kokumo who had some sort of psychic "power over evil." Regan has a similar ability, and Lamont learns of Merrin's theory that people with Regan and Kokumo's "good" power attract evil because Satan feels threatened by them and sends henchmen like Pazuzu to possess them. Lamont and Regan head back to her old home, where they encounter Pazuzu in the form of a Regan doppelganger that takes over Lamont's mind and tries to get him to kill the girl. However, with Regan's psychic ability, he's able to break Pazuzu's grip and tears out the demon's heart while Regan vanquishes a demonic swarm of locusts Pazuzu has unleashed.

The Exorcist III (1989)

The Exorcist III
© 20th Century Fox

Fifteen years after Karras' death, Lt. Kinderman investigates a series of brutal murders -- including that of his priest friend Father Dyer -- that have the tell-tale signs of the Gemini Killer, a serial killer executed 15 years earlier. Complicating matters is the fact that different fingerprints were found at each of the recent crime scenes, suggesting they were committed by different assailants. Kinderman discovers that all of the victims had ties to Karras and Regan's exorcism. During his investigation, a doctor in the psychiatric ward tells Kinderman of a patient with an unknown identity who's been catatonic since being picked up wandering the streets 15 years ago; only recently has he come out of it, claiming that he's the Gemini Killer. Kinderman interviews the unnamed patient, who looks just like Karras. He states he's the Gemini Killer and that after he was executed, Pazuzu facilitated the transfer of his soul into Karras' body. It took 15 years for the killer's soul to regenerate the dead priest's brain cells and gain consciousness. Since he's done so, he's now able to exit the body and possess others to commit his murders. Pazuzu eventually takes over Karras' body, at which point another priest with exorcism experience, Father Morning, arrives to exorcise the demon. Pazuzu kills him, and when Kinderman shows up, Pazuzu prepares to kill him too until the policeman shoots him dead.

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Exorcist: The Beginning
© Warner Bros.

Set in 1949, this guilty pleasure prequel finds Father Merrin doubting his faith after witnessing atrocities in World War II. He turns his back on the church and works as an archaeologist in Africa, where he accepts a job to recover an artifact from an ancient, buried Christian church that's being excavated in Kenya. Upon his arrival at the site, Merrin notices ominous events plaguing the area: a desecrated crucifix, hyena attacks, stillborn babies and the lead archaeologist committing suicide -- but not before Merrin witnesses him seemingly possessed by an evil entity. The local tribe blames the bad omens on the outsiders and on a local boy named Joseph whom they think is possessed. The British army arrives to protect the archaeology team, raising tensions with locals. Meanwhile, Merrin discovers that beneath the church lies an older Satanic temple. He decides to perform an exorcism on Joseph, but it turns out it's not the boy who's possessed; it's the dig's doctor, Sarah, who kidnaps Joseph and takes him to the underground temple. Merrin follows them and discovers that the demon causing all the trouble is named Pazuzu. With Joseph's help, he exorcises the demon, but Sarah dies in the process. When he and Joseph emerge, they see that the locals and British soldiers have killed each other in a bloody battle and that a sandstorm has buried the artifact he was seeking (which turns out to be the face of Satan). Having regained his faith, Merrin returns to the priesthood.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
© Warner Bros.

Although it was released after Exorcist: The Beginning, Dominion was filmed earlier. The studio disliked it so much, however, that it commissioned a rewrite and reshoot that became Exorcist: The Beginning. The plot is basically the same, picking up in 1947 with Merrin having left the church and working on an excavation of an ancient church in Kenya. He befriends a local boy named Cheche who's an outcast from his village due to his physical deformities; they think he's cursed. When the archaeology team uncovers an underground pagan temple beneath the church, Merrin reasons the church was built to counteract the demon-worshipping temple. Thinking the church is evil, the locals demand the excavation be stopped, and tensions mount along religious lines, with both Christians and locals suffering loss of life. Soon it becomes apparent that Cheche is indeed possessed by Pazuzu, and Merrin uses his newfound faith to exorcise him in the ancient church. They are able to avoid an all-out battle between the tribesmen and the British military, but a local chief warns Merrin that Pazuzu will seek revenge.